Saturday, January 31, 2009

battlefield acupuncture

Wow, times really are changing: the military is going to be using battlefield acupuncture to control pain:

[T]he Air Force, which runs the military's only acupuncture clinic, is training doctors to take acupuncture to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. A pilot program starting in March will prepare 44 Air Force, Navy and Army doctors to use acupuncture as part of emergency care in combat and in frontline hospitals, not just on bases back home.

They will learn "battlefield acupuncture," a method Niemtzow developed in 2001 that's derived from traditional ear acupuncture but uses the short needles to better fit under combat helmets so soldiers can continue their missions with the needles inserted to relieve pain. The needles are applied to five points on the outer ear. Niemtzow says most of his patients say their pain decreases within minutes.

(Thanks, Cindy)

I used to be an acupuncture sceptic until the Director of a local alternative health care university literally marched into my house one day in 1997, said 'Lie down', and stuck me with needles. I fell asleep. I'm an insomniac, but I fell asleep. And then I couldn't persuade myself to get out of bed for about an hour. (Usually, you can't persuade me to stay in bed for an hour--except, y'know, if... Ah, never mind.)

If I have a religion, it's science. I don't believe in god, or crystals, or reiki. (Yep, I had reiki once, to please... Again, never mind.) But acupuncture works (that is, it does something). I don't know why. Does anyone know of any research that explains (to biology-loving people, not believers in ley lines and past lives) how?

[Sidenote: my presence here has been a little erratic this week, and might continue to be so. But please don't worry; I'm not going anywhere; I'm not deathly sick. Just very tired, and very busy with many deadline-related things I should have done weeks ago.]

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

trophic cascade: no wolves = ecodeath

J, a Friend of Ask Nicola, was in town a few weeks ago and came over for dinner. We talked about nature in the Pacific Northwest. J said she'd like to see the Hoh rain forest. Kelley said, Oooh, yes, it's amazing. I said, Tuh, the place is a fucking desert. They both looked at me. I tried to explain what I meant, that to me it felt dead, the opposite of a fecund rain forest--just trees and fern and (the last time I was there) a truly irritating junco that would not shut up. But I was tired and inarticulate. And now here's this article in the Seattle Times that explains everything.

THE HOH RAIN FOREST — No trace remains of the wolves whose howls ricocheted for millennia down the lush valleys of the Olympic Peninsula.

Settlers and trappers killed them all in little more than three decades.

But the loss of the stealthy predators in the early 1900s left a hole in the landscape that scientists say they are just beginning to grasp. The ripples extend throughout what is now Olympic National Park, leading to a boom in elk populations, overbrowsing of shrubs and trees, and erosion so severe it has altered the very nature of the rivers, says a team of Oregon State University biologists. The result, they argue, is an environment that is less rich, less resilient, and — perhaps — in peril.

"We think this ecosystem is unraveling in the absence of wolves," said OSU ecologist William Ripple.


Beschta was searching for cottonwoods in the Hoh River rain forest on a day when clouds and sunshine chased each other across the sky. Centurion cedars unfurled their boughs. Raindrops glistened on waist-high ferns, and a carpet of moss muffled the sound of footfalls. Few corners of the state are less touched by man, and the idea that an ecological crisis was unfolding seemed laughable.

"To most people, this would look pretty pristine," Beschta conceded.

But decades spent studying forests and rivers have taught him to notice things most people don't.

Those "fern prairies," for example, shouldn't occupy vast swaths of forest floor. Nor should you be able to see 100 yards in any direction. "This looks like a well-kept lawn," Beschta said with dismay.

We don't know what we're doing when we fuck with things. We shouldn't fuck with things. Bring back the wolves.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

useless statistics and extraneous information

This blog gets an average of 239 page views a day. An additional 60 or 70 people read the posts on MySpace (I cut and paste manually because MySpace is such a bloody awkward interface--very controlling, tuh) and perhaps 50 a day read it on my website (FeedBurner does that work for me, yay). About 40 more read everything via FeedBurner emails. No idea how many read the LiveJournal posts (probably only a handful). So that makes an average of getting on for 400 blog reads a day. Which I think is kind of cool, given that I've been doing this less than ten months.

In nine weeks it'll be AN's first anniversary. It's been an interesting year, learning how all this stuff works (65% of you use Firefox and Safari, about 35% of you use a Mac), getting to know you (from Zhengzhou, China to F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming), figuring out what you like, what pisses you off; what gets you all stirred up, what makes you say, Meh. You seem to like wine and chocolate. And rants. And what I think of as fairly humdrum posts about What I Did Today.

Sadly, I haven't been doing much the last two or three weeks. I've just restarted physical therapy and it's left me feeling like an engine that's rusted shut. This level of stiffness and muscle fatigue removes much of my impulse to chat. But at some point (oh, soon I hope), all the rust will flake off and my new super shiny honed and revved self will zoom back. Then we'll party.

Meanwhile, I'm off to read some non-intellectually challenging dyke fiction and some (ditto) historical war fiction and just revel in fictional sex (bound up with honour and duty) and violence (ditto) in between napping, drinking tea, and eating entirely too much chocolate. Oh, wait, there's no such thing as too much chocolate.

Perhaps you'll take a minute to tell me something about yourselves...

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Aud movie? Ha.

If you're here from AfterEllen, welcome. Look around. Enjoy. Take a look at the sidebar for some audio, some video, and a sampler of some of the more popular posts.

Explanation for everyone else: the nice people at have a new feature where readers write in and ask their burning dyke pop culture questions. Someone wanted to know when Aud would be a movie (ha). Here's my answer:

- - - - - - - -

Question: Will any of Nicola Griffith’s novels be made into films?

Amy K.

Nicola Griffith

Answer: I wish I could answer your question with an enthusiastic "Yes!" But, alas, I cannot.

I passed your question along to Griffith (Stay, Always) and here's what she had to say:

Short answer: no. Studios don't have the guts or smarts to make a movie with a lesbian lead, and independents don't have the cash.

I've had preliminary talks with producers, with a TV network, and with several Big Name screenwriters about three of my novels, but it always comes to nothing. Hollywood doesn't believe a woman can open a movie. And they're positively terrified of lesbian characters. I think Aud would make an awesome franchise character--she could kick Bourne and Bond butt--but she's that frightening beastie, a woman who, to quote a review, has not once said "Yes, sir" to the dominant paradigm. So Aud won't be appearing at a multiplex anywhere near you (anywhere on the planet) until the studios man up. But, woo, I tell you, whoever takes the plunge will make a mint of money. The world is so very ready to watch a woman, wearing Armani and a Sig Sauer, revel in killing the bad guys and getting the girls.

So it sounds like we won't be watching Aud seduce Angelina Jolie anytime soon — unless, of course, any of you filthy rich lesbians (paging Ellen DeGeneres!) are willing to pony up the cash.

But Griffith has a few other projects in the works:

I'm working on a massive historical novel set in 7th century Britain, what used to be called The Dark Ages but is now usually referred to as Early Medieval or The Age of Conversion. I'm keeping an occasional blog about it, see for example this post. I'm also, in response to the old-fashioned and short-sighted methods of trade publishing, forming a publishing co-op, Ozymandias. And my partner (novelist and screenwriter Kelley Eskridge) and I have just launched a new business, Humans at Work. She's the managing partner, I'm the silent beer-providing partner .

As you would probably guess from her answers, Griffith's blog, "Ask Nicola," is also a very entertaining read and a great way to pose your own questions to the author. Check it out here.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

So if you do have a question, please ask it (see sidebar for how). I'll answer anything. Mostly.

*** Edit: we've formed a betting pool on when the Aud movie will happen. Grand prize = appearing as an extra. I'll think of other prizes, too (probably over beer tonight *g*) So leave a comment with your best guess... ***
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Monday, January 26, 2009

refuse the cliché, save the world

Okay, I've been saying this for years: cliché is bad, and not just in fiction. Go read this article in Wired Science:

After being trained to distinguish between similar black male faces, Caucasian test subjects showed greater racial tolerance on a test designed to to measure unconscious bias.

The results are still preliminary, have yet to be replicated, and the real-world effects of reducing bias in a controlled laboratory setting are not clear. But for all those caveats, the findings add to a growing body of research suggesting that science can battle racism.

"Any time you can get people to treat people as individuals, you reduce the effect of stereotypes," said Brown University cognitive scientist Michael Tarr. "It won't solve racism, but it could have profound real-world effects."

(Thanks, Cindy)

I've written about this many times. Here, for example, is an exerpt from "Living Fiction, Storybook Lives":

Every society has its own set of master stories, or cultural clichés: men are stronger, the infidel is less than human, the rich are more important. A storyteller, whether a novelist, singer or screenwriter, should be aware of these. Every time a cliche is uttered, it becomes stronger; the master narrative is reinforced. Don't misunderstand me, I am not saying that a writer's job is to change the world, that all fiction should be radical, positive, motivating and so forth; I write, as I've already said, for myself. I am not saying that writers are responsible for what a reader does with the dreams and images we create with our fiction, just that we should be conscious of the fact that our work does affect others.

I receive countless letters, and talk to many people at signings, who tell me my work has changed their lives. I'm pretty sure other writers hear versions of the same thing. One woman, married and the mother of two, emailed me from another country and said that, after reading my first novel, she was finally able to understand, to label some of her feelings: she was a lesbian. After reading my second, she had the courage to do something about it. One man told me at a signing that reading about Lore's struggles in Slow River had helped keep him sane during a terrible period in his career. Another woman in Atlanta told me that after reading Ammonite she'd left her solid, corporate job to pursue a dream of being an oral storyteller.

It's partly because I know how deeply fiction can influence the lives of readers that I dislike stories which reinforce the status quo, that reiterates the old, master patterns of our culture (particularly those dealing with issues of power and prejudice). Some of these narratives reinforce consciously, some unconsciously; I prefer the former. Unconscious reinforcement is the result of bad writing, usually a combination of cliched phrasing, laziness, and lack of imagination. With conscious reinforcement I know the writer has done his or her job, and will most probably have made an attempt to explain why s/he believes the status quo is preferable to any other way of being, which at least indicates to the reader that another way is possible.

One recent trend I've noticed in science fiction (and fantasy) which seems to be a great reinforcer is what I call Sex & Servitude SF. There are two main types. The first is fiction in which the main character is or becomes a slave or bonded servant who falls in love with her (and I use the pronoun advisedly) owner. The reinforcing message here is usually that (a) love conquers all, (b) anything is better than being alone and, sometimes, (c) some of us are just born lesser beings so we deserve to have someone tell us what to do. The second type dwells lovingly on physical torture, often sexual, in which the torturer is usually (though not always) male and the victim usually (though not always) female. A more subtle variation of this second type is one in which some kind of sexual threat or constraint is present but covert. The message here, of course, is that women are victims: we have been, are, and always will be.

Not all fiction with these tropes reinforces the status quo. Generally speaking, the better the writer, the less likely they are to fall into all the old trap of stereotyping (though there are stunning exceptions). Cliché is the great reinforcer. Examine it--the person, the situation, the culture--with a clear eye and strong prose and the cliche melts, because the reader sees individuals in particular situations. We understand that this happened to them for particular reasons; that a different choice, or different circumstance would have led to a different outcome. In other words, exposing the cliché, writing it out, renders it powerless because we see alternatives.

Cliché is the enemy. It's laziness. It leads to prejudice and unhappiness. Think of all the suffering we could eliminate by refusing it. This week, as you go about your business, take the time to understand what you're looking at, to see particular people in specific situations. Refuse the shortcut. See what happens.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

rethinking the genetic theory of inheritance

This is pretty huge: DNA is not the only molecular mechanism of heritability. There's a secondary mechanism, molecules that attach to DNA and regulate genes. These epigenetic factors, it turns out, are also heritable. Wow. It explains a lot:

Scientists at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) have detected evidence that DNA may not be the only carrier of heritable information; a secondary molecular mechanism called epigenetics may also account for some inherited traits and diseases. These findings challenge the fundamental principles of genetics and inheritance, and potentially provide a new insight into the primary causes of human diseases.

Your mother’s eyes, your father’s height, your predisposition to disease--these are traits inherited from your parents. Traditionally, ‘heritability’ is estimated by comparing monozygotic (genetically identical) twins to dizygotic (genetically different) twins. A trait or disease is called heritable if monozygotic twins are more similar to each other than dizygotic twins. In molecular terms, heritability has traditionally been attributed to variations in the DNA sequence.

(thanks, Cindy)

Seriously, this is hugely important news. It will probably lead to a much better understanding of fluctuating illnesses such as MS and lupus and bi-polar disorder. Go read the article. Or, okay, if you've done enough reading here's the video of Dr. Art Petronis talking about the study.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

ID-Dust: tracking you without your knowledge

Invisible RFID dust, ID-dust, to track people. Sprinkle a perimeter around your museum or government installation or airport security zone then track intruders in real time:

By invitation, I recently visited a remote facility in northern Virginia to see a demonstration of NOX – a new Intelligent Perimeter Defense system deployed by the FBI that uses covert Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to track people and assets without their knowledge.

That’s right, using RFID to track people without their knowledge. This system is exactly what the privacy advocates have long feared: Big Brother tracking us with spy chips. As Orwellian as this sounds, the undisputed fact is that this system catches thieves and does so at a fraction of the cost of traditional security solutions.

NOX combines high-resolution video pictures and RFID for identification, tracking and tracing, overlaid in real time on a facility map to show the movement of people and assets. The system allows security officers to see theft as it happens, even if the stolen object is inside a briefcase, under a jacket, or stuffed inside a sock.

What makes the NOX system I saw different from traditional security systems is that it uses RFID for clandestine surveillance: RFID readers are hidden inside walls, floors, and ceilings; RFID tags are discretely placed; and only the security personnel know that the system is in place – until the thief gets caught. Then, all the thief knows is that he or she was caught in the act, on video.

I wonder how easy the NOX system will be to use once everyone is using it? All those different dusts being tracked everywhere... I forsee a sudden obsession with cleanliness, more people insisting guests take their shoes off and so on. Also, how lung-friendly is this 'dust'?

Anyone know anything about this?

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday audio: What Do You Want?

This is another cover song, this time of Joan Armatrading's What Do You Want? It was recorded long, long ago (1983, I think) on that infamous boombox, and the sound quality, sadly, leave a vast great deal to be desired. (If you use iTunes, crank up the pre-amp; it helps.) Enjoy.

(direct link)

Jane, the guitarist, really liked this song, so I agreed to do a version. I'm not sure why I chose to avoid the melody so hard. I wasn't in love with the song but I don't remember feeling resentful. Perhaps I was experimenting, I just don't recall.

I couldn't find "What Do You Want?" on either IMEEM or YouTube, but I did find this version of "Willow," a very fine song.

I had lunch, in 1981 I think, with a friend of Joan Armatrading's brother--who swore up down and sideways that he said his sister wasn't a dyke. But if Joan Armatrading hasn't had sex with girls I'll eat my sofa.

If you don't know who Joan Armatrading is run, don't walk, to your nearest iTunes and buy anything and everything from her first four albums from the 1970s:

* Show Some Emotion - 1977
* Joan Armatrading - 1976
* Back to the Night - 1974
* Whatever's for Us - 1972

She's one of a kind.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

2,000 years old

photo by Jennifer Durham

Around my wrist I wear a set of 73 carnelians cut and faceted in Roman workshops in the first century. They were a present from Kelley for our tenth anniversary. I am passionately attached to them.

I use the plural, workshops, because it's obvious that they are from several different times and places--different colour and clarity, different sizes, different wear patterns. Some, I think, might have been worn for a couple of hundred years; some for only a generation. They were dug up from Bahariya Oasis in Egypt, a centre of Greco-Roman winemaking around the third and fourth centuries. In other words (though no one at the gallery would admit this), they are grave goods.

I don't know the provenance, the chain of custody, of my beads. All I can tell you is they came from a respectable gallery in Australia. I prefer to believe that they were properly excavated, recorded in context, and then legally sold. But I honestly don't know. All I know is I won't give them up, and they've sparked much daydreaming.

They are part of the organising matrix of my fiction about Hild. Originally, I thought I'd write one longish novel about this fascinating woman. But then I found that she wore my beads. And then I wanted to write about a woman of the 3rd century CE who also wore the beads, and a woman of the 10th century, ditto. (Rather thrillingly--at least to me--she's Aud the Deepminded, the historical inspiration for Aud of The Blue Place and two other novels.) And the Hild novel grew in my mind to two or possibly three novels. So I have a four or five novel sequence laid out in my head: the Carnelian Sequence.

They look particularly beautiful in the sunlight. Over the years I've tried to catch their fire in photographs, and been driven to despair. The picture above, taken by FoAN Jennifer Durham, comes the closest to how they look in real life. (I believe she used tungsten lights to mimic sunlight.)

So my creative dance card is pretty full, just with the Carnelian Sequence. And yet, as always, I have ideas circling, waiting to land, like a skyful of planes running low on fuel: movies, tv series, stories, novels, graphic novels. Some will crash before I can land them safely, but, wow, it feels marvellous to watch them all tonight, twinkling away up there.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I just won an award!

Out of the blue yesterday I got an email telling me I was one of four writers this year being awarded the Alice B. Reader's Appreciation Medal. It's an honour given annually to writers of lesbian fiction deserving of recognition based on their body of work. Previous winners include giants of the field such as Joanna Russ, Jane Rule, Alison Bechdel, and Katherine V. Forrest. It also comes with a juicy cheque.

I've been given all kinds of statues and plaques, certificates and cheques, even a lovely ceramic plate (now displayed at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame), but this is my very first medal. I'm delighted.

Here's part of the email I got:

We readers have enjoyed all of your books and found your treatment of the death of and mourning for a beloved partner in The Blue Place and Stay particularly touching; almost too painful to read.. Your ability to capture emotions is unsurpassed. Your treatment of the uncertainties of MS, too, is noteworthy, and we thank you for your thoughtful treatment of death and illness. The mark of a great writer is that their work teaches, as well as entertains: you have mastered both of these facets of the art. We are proud to add you to our list of favorite writers. Thank you.

So there you have it. I'm officially awesome. (Picture me feeling smug and visualising myself as Sir Nicola with rows of medals pinned across my chest, sword at my side, noble steed waiting for me to leap on and lead the charge to save the world. Why, yes, I have just had four cups of tea in under an hour, how can you tell?)

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

four years to save the earth

According to this article in the Guardian, Obama has no leeway, not a second to lose. The biggest clock of all, the climate, is ticking:

Barack Obama has only four years to save the world. That is the stark assessment of Nasa scientist and leading climate expert Jim Hansen who last week warned only urgent action by the new president could halt the devastating climate change that now threatens Earth. Crucially, that action will have to be taken within Obama's first administration, he added.

I tell you, I would not want that man's job. He has to bring so much together so fast and so well that there's very, very little room for error. Two solid things--the economy and the ecology--have to be tackled brilliantly, right out of the gate. Two less tangible things--hope and transparency--have to be nurtured with care. If he pulls this off, if our elected official allow him to, if we keep our elected officials in line with emails, letters, and phone calls, then we all deserve the biggest party the world has ever seen.

So, go us!
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generational change

Don't Ask, Don't Tell is still in force, but the officers of tomorrow won't be listening:

WEST POINT — Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy Thursday announced the nominees for the 2nd Annual Cadet Choice Award for the movie character that best exemplifies West Point leadership.

The nominees are:

  • Bruce Wayne in “The Dark Knight”
  • Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg in “Valkyrie”
  • Dr. Henry Walton "Indiana" Jones, Jr. in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”
  • John Hancock in “Hancock”
  • Harvey Milk in “Milk”
  • James Bond in “Quantum of Solace”
(thanks, Victor)

This is why books and films and plays and poems are important, why story is important. It's why representation of all kinds of people in those stories matters. Plus, it's seriously cool :) Go Harvey!

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Monday, January 19, 2009

beautiful and strange

Musical instruments made of ice: beautiful and strange. I would love to hear this. (thanks Cindy).

GEILO, Norway (AFP) – Never has the phrase "sends shivers down your spine" more aptly described a musical concert. Inside a large snow arena tucked away in Norway's mountains, spectators marvelled as musicians performed for two days using instruments made almost entirely of ice.

Organised to coincide with the first full moon of the year, Geilo ski resort in the central mountain region separating Oslo from Norway's second largest city, Bergen, is home to the world's only ice music festival.

As short-lived as sandcastles, the ice-sculpted wind, string and percussion instruments give off surprising new sounds that vary according to the quality of the ice and the surrounding temperatures.

"Ice is extremely beautiful on a visual and musical level. It has additional qualities to other materials. It is abstract. Although it is cold it gives out a warm sound," said Terje Isungset, the festival organiser and a pioneer in ice music.

As we say in our house: people are amazing. Actually, the world is amazing. We had a whole weekend of bright, bright sun with cold, brilliant nights. I woke to a world covered in frost like the hair of an old goat. It looks like more of the same today. Life is good. I'm certainly feeling much less ranty :)

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

novels make us better people

Bela Lugosi as Dracula (1931). Bram Stoker's character embodied the worst excesses of aristocratic dominance. Photograph: Kobal

According to an article in the Guardian, Victorian novels helped us evolve into better people. Classic novels like Dracula and Middlemarch 'instilled the values of cooperation and the suppression of hunger for power'.

The despicable acts of Count Dracula, the unending selflessness of Dorothea in Middlemarch and Mr Darcy's personal transformation in Pride and Prejudice helped to uphold social order and encouraged altruistic genes to spread through Victorian society, according to an analysis by evolutionary psychologists.

Their research suggests that classic British novels from the 19th century not only reflect the values of Victorian society, they also shaped them. Archetypal novels from the period extolled the virtues of an egalitarian society and pitted cooperation and affability against individuals' hunger for power and dominance. For example in George Eliot's Middlemarch, Dorothea Brooke turns her back on wealth to help the poor, while Bram Stoker's nocturnal menace, Count Dracula, comes to represent the worst excesses of aristocratic dominance.

The team of evolutionary psychologists, led by Joseph Carroll at the University of Missouri in St Louis, applied Darwin's theory of evolution to literature by asking 500 academics to fill in questionnaires on characters from 201 classic Victorian novels. The respondents were asked to define characters as protagonists or antagonists, rate their personality traits, and comment on their emotional response to the characters.

This, of course, is old news to anyone who reads this blog. I've said over and over again: story teaches us who we are, both severally and collectively.

Novels are stories. Story helps us figure out who we are as individuals. Story helps us understand our culture, how it works, and how we fit in it. Novels are a reflection of our best selves, and a guide. Really good novels do this really well, by taking us there, helping us live a life we've never actually experienced. We should all read more of them.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

schematic of publishing trends

Oooh, this is cool. A Tube-type map of publishing trends and buzzwords of the last year:

The thing is, all it does is show some connections and sit pretty. Compare it to Minard's classic graphic representation of Napoleon's disaster in Russia:

Minard's graph shows time and numbers as well as distance. Wouldn't it be stunning if somebody could do that for publishing, include time, geography, numbers and connection in one picture? Any graphically minded publishing nerd statisticians out there?

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday audio: Ammonite, part more

This is a reading from Ammonite, in which Marghe learns the true history of the original inhabitants of Jeep. It's eleven and half minutes long.

(direct link)

This reading was a request. I do that. So if there's any particular bit of my work--fiction or non-fiction--that you fancy hearing read aloud, just ask. Nicely. Some things are more difficult to read than others, for example, dialogue-heavy multi-character scenes, but in general I'll give almost anything a go.

Oh, and there's one obvious error in this reading. I left it in because when I tried to fix it, it sounded terrible, a really obvious audio cut-and-paste. So I'm relying on listeners to do that internal edit most people do when faced with something that doesn't make sense. Five points and a smile to the first person who spots it.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band

The only live music I saw while growing up was school and church music: Bach on the organ, school orchestras mangling Haydn, school choirs murdering Britten, school troupes absolutely torturing Gilbert and Sullivan.

When I was 15, I saw The Sensational Alex Harvey Band live at Leeds University. Seventies rock vaudeville. It blew my mind:

We sat on the floor in a small hall with a low stage. Everyone seemed to be very much taller than me. At first I couldn't see much of the stage but as the eveing progressed the audience seemed to shrink. It turned out everyone was sitting on cases of beer. As they drank, they got closer to the ground. By the end of the evening, half of them were horizontal. Not knowing how these things worked, I'd neglected to bring anything to drink--though I think others took pity on me and gave me a couple of tinnies. (For those of you who don't speak Northern, a tinny is a tin--a can--of beer.)

One of things I admired, and still do, is SAHB's fabulous sense of timing, their willingness to take a moment and let it...stretch. Oh, and the music was really, really loud. This evening in 1976 was where I saw, for the first time, someone try to curl up in the cone of a big bass speaker. No doubt that person now uses BSL (British Sign Language) because there wouldn't have been much of his eardrums left.

Anyway, I hope this enlivens your Thursday.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Don't be fucking cheap: a rant

Do you want to leave literature in the hands of amateurs, poseurs, and lowest-common-denominator craphacks? If you're not buying new books that's what you're doing.

If readers don't spend money on new books, writers don't get paid. If you buy a second-hand book the creator of the work gets nothing--that's zero, 0, to you mathematically challenged people--from that transaction. If you are the 20th person to borrow a book from your local library, the creator of that work (at least in the US) gets nothing.

If writers are not getting paid, they get jobs. If a writer gets a job, she is tired; she has no time. The quality of her work falls, or her productivity. Or both. Oh, she'll still write, because she has to, but it means fewer good books for you. Poseurs with trust funds, neurotics who write achingly boring urban angst in the second person from the POV of a fork, will still write--because it's that or admit they're parasites. Blockbuster craphacks (the ones who wouldn't know a believable character if it broke their nose and tore their ears off, who write dumbed-down fiction for people who read one book a year because it's all the rage) will still write because there are plenty of inexperienced readers who don't know any better who will buy their books.

Is that what you want? Cynical crap? Etiolated angsty crap? Inexperienced people's crap? No? Then buy a new book. Buy one every month.

Oh, I hear you whinge, times are tough, I can't afford new books. Bullshit. It's likely you're just choosing not to.

  • If you have bought steak or sashimi in the last month, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you have cable, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you drive a car less than three years old, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you have seen a movie at the theatre in the last month, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you have a NetFlix subscription, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you have bought clothes, other than underwear or something for a job interview, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you have a mobile and a landline, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you pay for broadband, you can afford to buy a new book.
  • If you go to Starbucks or any other fancy coffeeshop more than once a month, you can afford to buy a new book.
  • If you generally buy local-grown organic vegetables or free-range eggs or reared-without-hormones-and-antibiotics meat, you can afford to buy a new book.
  • If you can run the heating or air conditioning when you want, you can afford to buy a new book.
Erasmus said something like: when I have a little money, I buy books; if I have something left over, I buy food. Books help us learn who we are, who we want to be. Books help maintain our culture. Books matter. Writers of books should get paid. But most of you are not paying, or at least not paying the right people. You're buying used books*, borrowing books from the library**, making excuses. I spit upon your excuses. My guess is that 99% of people who read this post can afford to buy a new book--hardcover, ebook, trade paper, mass market--once a month. I don't give a shit about the format; I just want a writer, somewhere, to get paid.

Writing novels well is hard. The books you fall in love with, the ones you fall into, are not written by amateurs, poseurs, or cynical craphacks. They are written by experts who love what they do and get paid for it. You don't become an expert until you've written a lot. You don't get to write a lot, and polish your work to a glow, if you don't get paid for it.

So don't be fucking cheap. Go buy a book. A new one.

* I love used bookstores. By all means, use them for out of print or barely-read blockbusters. But if you can afford it, go buy new, too.
** I love libraries. I couldn't survive without them. By all means, use them for research (academic books are obscenely expensive--not affordable at all for most people), for out of print, for blockbuster, for new-to-you books. But then, if you can afford it, go buy new, too.
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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

self defence, a rant

This infuriated me. It's a blog post written by a woman who confuses martial arts with women's self-defence. Self defence is a whole-life approach. As taught by me (and Aud), it's more about learning to see the world than about kicking and punching. Fastening your seat belt is self-defence. Putting on oven mitts before lifting the casserole from the oven is self-defence. Understanding why it's not smart to drink yourself stupid in a group of people who aren't your very best friends is self-defence. Going to a storefront karate shop taught by a frustrated middle-aged I-know-what's-best-for-the laydees male instructor and expecting a few crappy lessons to magically keep you safe is not self-defence. (And it's as misguided as relying on a taser or a gun or pepper spray.) Self-defence is a world view, a philosophy built upon a foundation of being smart, being aware, knowing your rights, and knowing how to mentally, emotionally and physically take care of yourself.

Self-defence, in the greater sense, also means working with other women and men to change attitudes: to change laws, to change policing, to change a culture where rape is often accompanied by a shrug that means, Well, what did you expect?

No, I'm not here to tell you how to do that. You're grown ups, go figure it out. (You could start by reading Always.) I just had to rant. I get so very tired of people who don't know what the fuck they're talking about talking so very much.

My one line answer to the know-nothing blog post above: being alive in prison is better than being dead and very probably better than being raped. So, yeah, I'd bite his dangerously simplistic penis off, then I'd stuff it in his fucking mouth and make him chew. And swallow.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

votes are in

The final results are in for our publishing co-op vote. In order of popularity:

27 (the world: the end multi-chapter epic), 20 points
28 (we don't have the right idea yet), 18 points
18 (the rethought Iliad), 12 points
1 (a collection of my stories), 12 points

20, 9 points
15, 9 points
14, 7 points
17, 6 points
13, 6 points
9, 6 points
23, 5 points
26, 4 points
11, 3 points
10, 3 points
6, 3 points
2, 3 points
25, 2 points
21, 2 points
10, 2 points
22, 1 point

I had originally thought we'd simply go with a winner-takes-all result, but the fact that #28, 'we're not there yet', is such a close second indicates to me that we have a problem.

So what do you want to do? Choose #27 anyway, and refine the idea in discussion? Hold a run-off vote? Talk more?

Oh, and I'll be closing these comments tomorrow at midnight. I want to move all co-op stuff to the Google Group we've set up, Ozymandias. A blog isn't really the best place for it. So please go join if you want to part of this moving forward.

*** These comments are now closed. Discussion continues over on Ozymandias, the Google group. If you'd like to be part of the co-op, please join. ***

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Tetris + Ecstasy = no PTSD

illustration: The Economist

In Medical News Today, I read an article that triggered a lot of thinking. It's about how playing Tetris reduces PTSD flashbacks:

Playing 'Tetris' after traumatic events could reduce the flashbacks experienced in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), preliminary research by Oxford University psychologists suggests.

If this early-stage work continues to show promise, it could inform new clinical interventions for use immediately after trauma to prevent or lessen the flashbacks that are the hallmark symptom of PTSD. Existing treatments can only be provided once PTSD has become established.

The researchers report in the online, peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE that for healthy volunteers, playing 'Tetris' soon after viewing traumatic material in the laboratory can reduce the number of flashbacks to those scenes in the following week. They believe that the computer game may disrupt the memories that are retained of the sights and sounds witnessed at the time, and which are later re-experienced through involuntary, distressing flashbacks of that moment.

This is a brilliant idea: no drugs, no re-traumatising talk therapy by well-meaning fools, just moving coloured blocks around. How does it work? Well, you should read the article, but I know most of you won't. So. The Tetris approach relies on three elements:

First, the mind is considered to have two separate channels of thought: one is sensory and deals with our direct perceptual experience of the world, the other is conceptual and draws meaning and narrative from our experiences to give them context. For example, we would use one channel to see and hear someone talk and the other to comprehend the meaning of what they were saying.

Second, there appear to be limits to our abilities in each stream: it is difficult to hold a conversation while doing maths problems, for example.

And third, there is a short time after an event in which it is possible to interfere with the way our memories are retained in the brain.

The Oxford team reasoned that recognising the shapes and moving the coloured building blocks around in 'Tetris' soon after seeing traumatic events should compete with the visions of trauma to be retained in the sensory part of the brain. The narrative and meaning of the events should be unaffected.

The big snag is, it only works if you play the game immediately after the trauma (within six hours) before the memory can be laid down in all it's multi-mode glory/gory. However, a recent Economist article shows that after that time, drugs can be very useful:

Gail Westerfield, a writer who lives in South Carolina, was sexually abused by a neighbour when she was a child, and later raped by an acquaintance when a university student. She suffered a range of symptoms including memory problems, bouts of depression, crying fits and tremors.
vShe was diagnosed with PTSD a decade ago when she was in her 30s. But she found this knowledge cold comfort. “I was probably on half a dozen different kinds of antidepressants over the years”, she says, “and they never worked for me. I’ve had this my whole life, pretty much.”

So the results of a clinical trial recently announced by Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist in Charleston, South Carolina, are encouraging. Twenty patients with PTSD who had resisted standard treatments—including both Ms Westerfield and the security contractor—were given an experimental drug in combination with psychotherapy. After just two sessions all of them reported dramatic improvement. The compound, methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, is not new. Known as Ecstasy, it is illegal nearly everywhere.

This made me think about the time, in the early 80s, that I got beaten to shit in a gay club in the early '80s, and how magic mushrooms kept me sane. I wrote about it in And Now We Are Going to Have a Party. Here's the relevant excerpt. It begins with a diary entry. (Warning: the spelling is crap and it's writerly and self-conscious; talking about 'weakness'--even to myself--was embarrassing at that age, plus I had just started writing fiction and, urgh, poetry, and was practising my nascent craft.)

Monday 16th June 1986

Long time no entry & all that...Much has happened, too much really:
1. I had a nervous breakdown [...]

2. I joined the proto-LL [Lesbian Line] & helped it burst into flower on Sept. 30th (my birthday, too) 1985. We're still going but internal strife between various collective members has cost me much in terms of upset, trust and raw hurting

3. I now teach women's S-D at ₤8.52 per hour, courtesy of Adult Ed.

4. Me and Katherine (and, later, Mindy & Rachael) organised a Northern Writing Dykes w/end which went v. well

5. have written four short stories all of which I like (tho' some more than others) & have almost finished the first draft of another novel

So...after that quick resume, how do I feel? Hard to say, really.

I think--no, I believe, a different word altogether--I believe the tumbling train of events stem from New Year. That's how I alway say it now: NEW YEAR. Not 'that New Year' or 'the New Year before last' or 'that time eighteen months ago when I had my face re-arranged b[y] a bunch of fucking maniacs.' No. Now, it's simply: New Year.

The physical hurts may have healed quickly but the emotional scars have taken much, much longer--they're only just beginning to get better now. Now that I am acknowledging the real impact it has made on me.

Getting beaten up tore my world apart. It would have been enormously damaging at any time but, coming as it did less than ten days after hearing both publishers had rejected a ms. I had worked on for over a year, it was disastrous. It reached right down to an emotional core I never even knew existed and wrenched it awry. I remember feeling it go. Lying on that trolley bed in Accident & Emergency watching the blood dribble out of my nose. I'll never forget it--I'm not sure if I want to forget it. It taught me something. I don't know exactly what, but something.

I remember lying there and wanting to weep or scream or something and simply not being able to. Some part of my automatic system had taken over, even after the shock reaction, and I was polite and reasonable.

I desparately [sic] wanted--no, needed--Carol and I knew she was somewhere, somewhere, but that I just couldn't manage to go find her on my own. I asked two nurses (oh! so nicely I asked them!) & they said: wait. Wait. It's an ugly word.

Then they came & wheeled me backwards to somewhere. Why do they always push you backwards? It's terrifying, especially if you have a head injury: all the time you think 'God, I might crash into something, I wish I could see where I was going.' And the bumps as the trolley went over...what? Maybe there weren't really any bumps but my head felt them, and my arms, and my stomach, and my blood.

I remember being very scared then but with that fear that beyond panic, that strange stillness that seizes every muscle and gloats while your soul writhes. They took all my clothes off--put me in a white tiled room and dressed me a white gown and cap.

Alien. I felt so alien--to myself, the world, my body.

I don't really remember much after that clearly--I suppose the concussion was beginning to take its toll.

I remember Carol pretending to be calm and my relief at seeing that she was still Carol: still there, steady, rocklike, when so much had inexplicably changed.

I remember Linda's face--concerned with practicalities because she couldn't turn to look at the greater, more hideous realities. Then being home.

Five o'clock in the morning. And the panic beginning to catch up with the fear. And people coming to visit me saying 'terrible, terrible' and going away with that look on their faces that says: 'thank god it wasn't me. What did she do for that to happen to her?'

Already, women were thinking: in some way, this was her fault.

The inability to really move my head and face was the worst: pain, fear of pain, fearing of damaging the broken bones even more.

Tension built up because I couldn't MOVE, and constant surges of fear boosted adrenalin I couldn't get rid of. On top of that was the rage. Rage such as I have never--no, not never, twice before I've felt it. Rage that couldn't be released but was real and huge: frozen like the photo of a mad and rabid dog, mouth agape, fangs bared and indiscriminate.

Worse than all that, worse than knowing that every morning when I woke up, a slightly different face would look at m[e] from a mirror, worse than the rage and the pain and the frustration, worse than those things was the fear and the sickness in my stomach at feeling betrayed.

I felt betrayed by everyone. Every single last goddamn woman on earth, except Carol. Sometimes it's impossible for me to say how much I love that woman. She will give and she will take and all at the right times.

The meeting we held here several days later--four days I think--was packed with indignant women--'something should be done' but none of them cared. Except perhaps Linda. All of them thought--& some of them said, right out loud before me, with no shame--that it might 'not have happened to someone...well...less aggressive.' A politer way of putting it than 'you asked for it' but it's not any easier to hear.

And yet...I buried it all. Oh, I said I was angry and scared, I said I felt betrayed but I never really tried to convince anyone of it. I even tried to pretend to myself that I wasn't. And so the bruises and breaks and cuts healed and gradually my fear lessened enough for me to force myself to go out alone, sometimes. But the emotions were never dealt with, the vulnerability I felt was never truly acknowledged to exist. After all, wasn't I a strong and powerful woman whose look could quell an invading army, whose assertive and authoritative voice could silence a football crowd? Of course I was, so I was left--& I left myself--to it.

It all began to creep to the surface at the end of June. Suddenly, I could no longer continue with karate, despite getting a blue belt: my courage simply began to evaporate, I was scared every time I donned my gi, made the ritual bow. Then Carol went away for a few days, taking with her the borrowed foundations of my hastily re-erected confidence. I began to crumble, saying and doing irrational things because I didn't know what else to do. I hurt Linda, who retaliated with ten times the--calculated--ferocity. And still Carol hadn't come home. I had to beg her in the end: she cut her holiday short and came home three days early. I convinced myself that, really, there was nothing the matter except that, perhaps, I was just a teeny weeny bit too emotionally dependent upon Carol.

I struggled on for about three weeks, pretending the panic attacks I kept having were allergic reactions. I even went to the doctor who said I was working too hard and here's some valium to take when things get too bad. Needless to say, I thought he was an idiot and, apart from carrying them with me everywhere, I never touched them.

Then I went, with Mindy & Katherine, down to Leicester for the national women's writing conference. After half an hour on the coach, I knew it was a mistake. Away from Carol, I was crumbling again.

But again, I refused to really see what was happening. The nausea was travel sickness, wasn't it? With maybe just a touch of claustrophobia?

For the first evening and the next day I shook and trembled, felt sick, couldn't think or cope, could barely eat, didn't sleep...and pretended all was well.

By this time I had the disquieting feeling that something really was wrong--but I didn't know how to say so, or how to ask for help or even simple comfort. I was still the amazing, powerful, strong woman.

Sunday came with an even stronger rush of nausea than before. I couldn't even stomach tea. At the venue, I finally fell to pieces.

I rushed from the building, refusing to go back inside, and I sat on the grass--the sun was shining--and cried. I sat outside all day, eating valium like smarties until it was time to go home.

Then I really fell to pieces. As soon as I saw Carol, it all came gushing out: fear, fear, fear. I couldn't cope with anything. For weeks I refused to set foot outside the house, at least not on my own. Carol had to come with me to sign on, I couldn't shop. Anyone who wanted to go out for a drink with me had to come and collect me from the flat. And then, the pubs were hell.

The worst part was the crying: all the time and always unpredictably. I'd wake up in the morning, feel okay, start doing something fairly enjoyable then...for no reason that I could discern, I'd just dissolve into great wracking sobs.

Gradually, I began to think again, to cope. Now & then, I get agoraphobic again for a day or two and travelling anywhere (even on a bus or to Beverley) on my own is virtually impossible. But not totally impossible. I'm improving but it's so slow. So very, very slow.

Everything is still a bit raw around the edges--I can take far less pressure than I used to and, unfortunately, there's a lot more pressure that must be taken. But, at last, I am learning how to say: 'stop' and 'help' and 'I don't think so, no.' It's like learning a new alphabet--strange and rewarding.

One thing I don't say here is that for a few months in 1985, every day before I left the flat I would swallow a handful of magic mushrooms. The most I ever took at one time was thirty or so. It might sound counterintuitive, but I remain convinced that those mushrooms kept me sane and out of the kind of depression that led to all of my sisters (except Anne) making very serious suicide attempts.

When the mushrooms ran out, though, that was that. No more illegal drugs. I was watching Helena dance with death every day, and Carolyn flirting with it through alcohol (and razors, and prescription drugs) and I knew it was time to stop...

Unlike half my family (dead, now), I wasn't the least bit interested in making myself a victim. Nor did I want to arrest my emotional development. So I took the drugs for a while, then I stopped. Stopped everything cold turkey--amphetamine sulphate, hash, mushrooms, even smoking--except alcohol, because that was the one drug I felt I could control. I still feel that way. I love drinking, love my beer and wine (though I loathe being drunk).

So, oof, that's what happens when you read an interesting article in The Economist and stop to think about it: trips (no pun intended) down memory lane.

I'm pleased that my self-medication and self-soothing strategies worked. Mostly. I still see the broken nose every morning in the mirror but I no longer notice; it's just my nose. And these days I'm much, much better at asking for help. These days I understand that being strong doesn't mean being unbreakable, it means putting yourself back together. It means understanding that Leonard Cohen line (from 'Anthem') that it's the cracks that let the light in.

Oh, and ANWAGTHAP has just gone on sale for the bare bones price of $50. (We're finally profitable, yay! So now it doesn't have to cost so much.)


Coming later today: final voting results for Ozymandias, our publishing co-op.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

spooky DNA telepathy

Scientists are reporting evidence that contrary to our current beliefs about what is possible, intact double-stranded DNA has the “amazing” ability to recognize similarities in other DNA strands from a distance. Somehow they are able to identify one another, and the tiny bits of genetic material tend to congregate with similar DNA. The recognition of similar sequences in DNA’s chemical subunits, occurs in a way unrecognized by science. There is no known reason why the DNA is able to combine the way it does, and from a current theoretical standpoint this feat should be chemically impossible.

Implications--down the road, oh way way down the road--for understanding of recombination errors, which are factors in cancer, aging, and other minor things like that. Plus it's, y'know, cool: spooky DNA telepathy. (Via Cindy.)

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

media predictions

Clay Shirky's new media predictions in the Guardian. Here's part of what he had to say about newspapers. I think he's right:

Jeff Jarvis said it beautifully: "If you can't imagine anyone linking to what you're about to write, don't write it." The things that the Huffington Post or the Daily Beast have are good storytelling and low costs. Newspapers are going to get more elitist and less elitist. The elitist argument is: "Be the Economist or New Yorker, a small, niche publication that says: 'We're only opening our mouths when what we say is demonstrably superior to anything else on the subject.'" The populist model is: "We're going to take all the news pieces we get and have an enormous amount of commentary. It's whatever readers want to talk about." Finding the working business model between them in that expanded range is the new challenge.

It makes me ponder this blog. If I were a news journal, would I rather be populist or elitist? And the answer is easy: elitist, please, but only if it's not much work. Work. Always the tricky part. I don't like it much, never have. I'm a writer; writers are lazy. (Otherwise we'd have real jobs.)

With my novels I take pains. My novels will last. (Well, they will if one assumes that the rules of the 20th century will hold true for the 21st--not a safe or smart assumption.) But what's the blog for? Is it supposed to last?

I think the individual posts, tuh, not so much. Not on a daily basis. I think I need three substantial and meaningful, in a representative-of-me way, posts a month. The rest can be short and grumpy, amusing, informative and/or pretty in varying measures. The community we're building though--that is important to me.

I never know in advance how a post will turn out. This one, for example, started out as a one-line link, a Saturday morning everyone's busy kind of post, but then I had to pick a chunk of Shirky's article to quote, which made me pay attention. Which is fatal :) So here I am, blah-blah-blahing about the Meaning of My Blog. And the meaning of my blog, dear reader, dear commenter, the whole point, is you. How you talk to each other, and to me. So, hello, I hope you're having a lovely Saturday morning.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Friday, January 9, 2009

Friday audio: Storm

This is another cover: me singing 'Storm', a Carmel song I fell stone in love with 25 years ago:

(direct link)

Carmel, the singer, lives--or did, last time I was paying attention--in France. For some reason, when I was 23 I felt an affinity for her music. I knew nothing about her (didn't read magazines, didn't have a TV, it was before the Internet). Halfway through writing this post, I stopped to look her up on Wikipedia, and discovered she went to Catholic school in Scunthorpe (not far from Hull). Sunny Scunny (that's a joke--miserable, miserable fucking city, not unlike Hull itself). No wonder I sense a kinship. And then there's the whole ex-pat thing (and singing out of tune...) thing going on.

Anyway, I searched but couldn't find any video of 'Storm,' but here's another song from the same era, 'More More More'. Pay attention to the background; it's either Sunny Scunny or Hull (or, as everyone calls it, 'ull):

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

stonehenge rocks!

There's a concrete replica of Stonehenge here in Washington State. A Yorkshire lad, Rupert Till, paid it a visit and discovered unexpected acoustical properties:

Although the replica has not previously gained any attention from archaeologists studying the original site, it was ideal for Dr Till's work.

He said: "We were able to get some interesting results when we visited the replica by using computer-based acoustic analysis software, a 3D soundfield microphone, a dodecahedronic speaker, and a huge bass speaker from a PA company.

"By comparing results from paper calculations, computer simulations based on digital models, and results from the concrete Stonehenge copy, we were able to come up with some of these theories about the uses of Stonehenge.

"We have also been able to reproduce the sound of someone speaking or clapping in Stonehenge 5,000 years ago.

"The most interesting thing is we managed to get the whole space (at Maryhill) to resonate, almost like a wine glass will ring if you run a finger round it.

As some of you may remember, I've been thinking about sound a lot lately, and this article really, ahem, struck me. I have some notions of how to use these stone-and-sound notions for my big old sword-swangin' fantasy novel. Weird and spooky and creepy-creepy-creepy, heh heh.

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what font are you?

What font are you? Turns out I'm stencil--'a bit aggressive, no one wants to mess with you'. So there you go. Don't mess with me. (Via Gwenda.)

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

the sky fell on our heads

Well, okay, it was just a tree. That is, part of a tree. And it didn't hit us, or the house, or the car. But now we can see our neighbours and they can see us. No more naked sunbathing. (Why hello Google Earth satellite! Good, thank you. And you?) No more wandering around the house naked at night. Sniff.

Anyone have any suggestions about fast growing (20' in six months would be about right), affordable, non-invasive garden solutions?

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

new world first for the quiltbag nation

At hunter of justice, this news:

Openly gay man appointed to South Africa's highest court

In a genuinely pathbreaking act, South African President Mothlanthe has appointed Edwin Cameron, a justice on the Supreme Court of Appeal, as a judge of the Constitutional Court, the highest court in South Africa. Judge Cameron becomes the first openly gay man or woman ever appointed to a nation's highest court.

The first ever, anywhere. Very cool. Go President Mothlanthe, go Edwin Cameron, go us. But wouldn't it be nice to add, Go U.S. Any bets on how long that will be--how long before a Supreme Court Justice is out? I'd say six to eight years after same-sex marriage becomes legal on the federal level. But how long will that be? Answers on a postcard...

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Monday, January 5, 2009

ozymandias: more publishing co-op

For those who are new, welcome. Four weeks ago, I rather quixotically launched a co-operative publishing initiative. Lots of people have since been drinking the Kool-Aid *g*.

It started with I Have a Dream, wandered to Talk is Cheap, and Next Steps, and a Deadline, then to Publishing Permaculture. For those who want to see everything in one place, I've pasted the entire thing, in chronological order, into a .doc file, available here. Feel free to download and print, upload to your Kindle, or whatever your preferred mode might be. This document is where you'll find all the wild ideas, and the preliminary guidelines, and the hard rules.

For now, it's time to vote.

Here's how it works. Below I've listed all the ideas suggested. Some were repeated with slight variations, so I left those out, and have mostly tried to list in parentheses the name of whoever suggested it first. If you find an idea intriguing, but wish there was more info, go read that .doc file; there probably is more. Note: I've also listed as a choice "I don't think we've found the right project, yet," because perhaps we simply don't yet have the idea that will set the world--or us, the ones doing the work--on fire.

Each idea is numbered. You vote by posting a comment to this post stating which idea is your A choice, which B, and which C. An A choice get 3 points, a B gets 2, and a C gets 1. Like this:

A = 18
B = 27
C = 28

Vote only once. Vote for 1-3 things. I'll keep a running total here on this post. Feel free to explain your voting thoughts, if you like, and/or to comment on others' votes and/or reasons. Or not. But please put your vote at the begining of your comment so I see it. Anonymous, unsigned votes will be discarded.

We need everyone to vote. We have marketing and distribution and back-end solution gurus among us, we have writers and cartoonists and vidders, publishers and bloggers and graphic artists. For us all to be able to get behind a single project and push (to brainstorm the marketing, to haggle terms with retailers, to beg angel investors, to whip up enthusiasm in the bookchat community) we need to feel as though we have a stake in it. We need to be committed. So vote. And if you like the idea of the co-op but think we haven't figured out the right project, yet, use your vote (#28) to say so.

  1. collection of Nicola Griffith's short stories (hnu)
  2. anthology of graphic novellas starring the teen versions of adult fictional characters (nicola)
  3. collection of cartoons, themed to science or genre (cartoonist who writes)
  4. collaborative story, passed from hand to hand (karina)
  5. collection of short stories, each inspired by a Charles Addams cartoon (cww)
  6. collection of stories inspired by Gahan Wilson's cartoons, including a new Wilson story (cww)
  7. Nicola's 'Dozen Daily Delights' for happiness in an illustrated volume, maybe fleshed out with stories (jennifer d)
  8. novel with an accompanying photo/poetry book that fleshes out something in the novel, maybe a novel to do with the environment or the coming apocalypse (jennifer d)
  9. portrait/bio book on women musicians and authors. A range of years--finding the women who started the 'women's music' thing in the 70s and leading up to what's happening today. Maybe people would participate if there was a tie-in with their music/writing (jennifer d)
  10. short story collection by Ursula K. Le Guin (chadao)
  11. short story collection by Michael Moorcock (chadao)
  12. reprint of 2 books by John Blofeld: one, best English language book on Chinese tea, the other a collection of Tibetan mantras. Each would have an introduction--I know a Chinese Tea Master, and also the Shifu who introduced me to Tibetan mantras (chadao)
  13. collection of writings of totally unknown and so far unpublished people. Each story/poem illustrated by an equally unknown artist (tiegrrr)
  14. collection of well meant letters, that writers all over the world could've/should've sent, but never did (realmcovet)
  15. a multi-pov novel written online...five people witness an accident...what happens next (which also includes what happened before, what happens during, etc)? (kassia)
  16. short book consisting of two short stories each by Nicola and Kelley, illustrations should be photos by Jennifer Durham (barbara)
  17. story collection that riffs off an established story, but in this way: every story has a few incidental characters, like a clerk, a waiter, a lawyer, doctor, mechanic, et al., moving the plot along...If Mike Moorcock is willing to provide a lead story, it would be perfect for riffing, a variation on his multiple universes/realities: the suggestion that a single universe behaves like a multiple one, since its seen through so many eyes (cww)
  18. time-honoured story, a magnificient tale, like the Iliad (which itself was probably created by several people) and remade. Someone would have to be the director of the project. S/he would lay out the story arc and divide into a number of chapters. (TBD--perhaps 24, the customary number of Books in the original.) Each chapter would then be assigned to a novelist, or screenwriter, or cartoonist, or photographer, or poet, or short story writer, or lyricist, who would then write her or his chunk of the tale in his or her preferred format. Each chapter could be illustrated further by paintings and/or photography and/or short poems in the margins. We could have further chapters set in the Iliad metaverse available on the web: music, animated short film, Twitter feeds, whatever. Every month we could release a chapter free on the web and ask readers/listeners/viewers to guess who wrote/draw/composed it. We would get a dozen viewpoints on an integrated, proven, thrilling story (nicola)
  19. A Midsummer Night's Dream as an urban fantasy in graphic novel form (julie)
  20. Is there another set of myths that haven't been revisited as often as the Iliad and the Odyssey and that we'd like to work with? I love Gaiman's Sandman universe because it draws from a variety of cosmogonies (karina)
  21. "how do we keep the audience engaged?" I'm wondering what our audience is for this project... I guess it'll come to us as we go along. But still, I wonder, too, how do we engage our audience? How do we make them participate in ways that involve reading, but not only reading? How do we encourage them to take story and run with it. I like Placebo's video for their "Running Up That Hill" cover. They asked the fans to videotape themselves singing the song, then edited clips with this result. The video for Richard Van Camp's story I mentioned earlier had a similar feel: many dreamers telling the same story. I'd like to do something along those lines---multiple readers reading for the camera, virtual book tours, audio clips, etc.---with whatever we come up (karina)
  22. What if the same essential story is written several times, but each one is a different tone: a romantic comedy, horror, spy thriller... Did you see the mashup for the Shining trailer, that turned the movie into a romantic comedy? (cww)
  23. Nicola's sword-swangin' fantasy, set out as a metaplot. I've been thinking about the Dragonlance series, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, etc. Okay, all of them were spun from a game, probably because the basic elements of setting, characters, and an over-arching plot invited people to imagine and contribute along those lines. Can we create and sustain such a metaverse here? (karina)
  24. We all seem to agree that novels sell better than collections. Where to get the novel? How about some kind of contest where the winner gets to be the first novel published by the coop? (jennifer)
  25. I could offer my own gestating spawn for metaplot experimentation:
    One of the worlds is set in a planet with a geography similar to Earth circa the Precambrian time (mainly the late Archea and early Proterozoic Eons), when only 2%-3% of the planet's surface was dry land. Humans are basically organized into two countries, one with more advanced technology than the other. Not a lot of biodiversity. There's a high content of iron in the tectonic plaques which resulted in wacky electromagnetic field activity that upsets machines in certain places. The main feature of the fantasy is that people who live in one of the two land masses have collective nightmares. There is a procedure that can be performed to "remove dreams" before children turn twelve; it has become mandatory. And stuff. I could upload the first 100 pages of this, if anyone is interested in turning it into a collaborative thing.
    The other spawn is basically Drama On Spaceship fun. It's set as a series of linked stories featuring a character named Shade, who is a mercenary. I've got three very raw stories so far. There are a number of other constant characters floating around the Known Universe, such as the Demiurge, the Supreme Empress, the gullible Chancellor, etc. All very cartoonish. I could write up their backstories. I still don't have a clear idea of the variety of intelligent life forms and such, except for the inhabitants of the Clepsid system, who are amphibian, and the humans, of course. So, again, I could upload the three extremely raw stories so you can turn this into a collective metaplot. (karina)
  26. select author & let them cast & direct the audiobook version of the title of an original work (or one they have audiorights to). This idea spurred by convo on Twitter with Tayari Jones, who said she'd grown to dislike audiobooks due to stereotyped readings of characters in audio versions of her work (kat meyer)
  27. a novel about the end of the world. It would be written in eighty short chapters of four or five pages, each written from the POV of a different character: old, young, male, female, human, animal, Irish, Indonesian, tanker engineer in the Gulf, potato farmer's teen in Idaho, kindergarten teacher in France, etc. etc. It would be their final moments on earth: well, the sea just rose up... Or, my god, the ship that came out of the sky was *huge*... Or, I was teaching Suzy how to colour inside the lines when the crayon began to melt... Or, Whoa, dude, just about to like touch her breast, her totally naked breast, when she looked up and said, What's the fuck is that...? The small individual stories could easily fit a myriad writing/graphic/musical styles (nicola)
  28. we don't have quite the right project, yet. Let's keep talking.

Voting closes at midnight Sunday, January 11th (that's Pacific time). I'll try to remember to keep a running total posted here, but I'll definitely post results here on AN on Monday 12th January. Then the real work moves to a new Google Group I've set up. We can get more high-tech later, but for now a GG will do.

The GG I had to have a name, so I picked Ozymandias (after the Shelley poem, below). Why? Because when I look at publishing, I see the lords of trade publishing treating their writers like paid serfs (and their customers like enemies), and I believe they are heading for a fall. I believe their empires will fade into the lone and level sands. The name, for me, is a reminder of all that is wrong with the prevalent publishing model, a reminder that overweening pride is just not helpful.

I'm not married to the name so if anyone has a cool suggestion, hey, let's change it.

The most important things to do now, though, are:
- vote
- sign up for the Google Group

After next week, the GG will be where it's happening, and AN will revert to its eccentric unfocused self.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818

*** comments to this post are now closed. To join us as we move forward, please sign up with us at Ozymandias, a Google Group. ***
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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wol and Beryl watch the soaps


In the Telegraph, an article about a rescued Bassett Hound and an owl who watch tv together:

The pair have become inseparable since meeting at an animal refuge, and are quite happy to cuddle up together on an armchair.

Beryl the Basset Hound, who is a grand old dame at 16 years old, and four-year-old tawny owl Wol struck up a friendship when their owner realised they both loved watching television in the evenings.

(thanks, Cindy)

I'm hoping this is a good omen for 2009. It's not exactly the lion lying down with the lamb, but it's close enough for government work. Plus it's just really pleasing to me on a level I can't articulate.

Happy Sunday.

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Saturday, January 3, 2009

fly like an eagle

I saw a pair of eagles yesterday riding a thermal near our house: circling up and up, catching the rising air, saving energy, picking up height, then peeling away on their long glide down to wherever they were going. I thought: Oh, good. 2009 will be a fine year. And then I realised it was Friday, and I'd forgotten to do my audio post. I'm deep in Hild world; I keep losing track of the days. I don't mind but you may find it a little tedious when I forget to do things I've promised (or when I write posts like this that don't quite hang together unless you already know what I'm talking about). But right now I'm thinking, Fly like an eagle. I don't want to be whirring and flapping and fussing, just gliding majestically about my business.

I hope your weekend, too, is one long glide.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Andrew Vachss

From: Lou Bank (

Hi, Nicola! I saw that in your description of Stay, you referred to the "hard-boiled moral conviction worthy of Andrew Vachss." So I thought maybe you enjoyed his writing. If that's the case, you might want to know that his 18th and *final* Burke novel, ANOTHER LIFE, will be released December 30. More information at Thanks!

I didn't say that, my publisher, Nan A. Talese, did in the flap copy of the original hardcover edition. I don't generally compare my work to anyone else's. Writers need egos the size of the planet; I'm no exception. I think Aud is sui generis.

I enjoyed the first two Burke novels I read but felt reluctant to continue. This is no reflection on Mr. Vachss' skill--he's very good indeed at what he does--but an indicator of my taste. I find it difficult to read book after book about the violence done to children. Burke's world and worldview are rather grim and the tone monochromatic, full of that city chiaroscuro beloved of noir film and fiction.

This is one of the areas where I've disagreed with Aud's various publishers and editors. They call The Blue Place, Stay, and Always noir. (For a lengthy rant on the subject read this blog post, which begins: Being mis/labelled is an occupational hazard for a novelist. I shrug, think, Well, that's marketing for ya, and move on. But for some reason I seem to get bent out of shape when people describe the Aud books as noir. I've been trying to figure out why. I think it has something to do with love...) I see the Aud books as lush, textured, colourful novels about life. Yes, they're also crime fiction, yes, the language is spare--but the world (Aud's interior landscape and the physical milieu through which she moves) isn't.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Last night, Kelley and I settled down in front of the fire for our ritual New Year's Eve champagne and conversation. As usual, the conversation went rambling delightfully down many lanes, so we opened more than one bottle. The first, above, was a 2002 Marc Hebrart, a most elegant, serious wine. We drank it thoughtfully, while we talked about 2008, the highs and lows, and munched a fabulous duck paté. For the next part of our conversation, the setting of goals for 2009, we realised we were in risk-taking mode, so we opened our last bottle of non-vintage Jose Michel, a racier, slightly outré bottle, a much friskier little biscuit:

It's very much an 'Oh, what the fuck, let's do it!' wine, and damn the hangovers, and it looks as though that's how our 2009 is shaping up. Woo-hoo! When we'd drunk it to the last drop and marvelled over, y'know, everything, we had an enormous plate of spaghetti bolognese and a baguette of garlic bread. Instead of Armagnac or port we sensibly settled on tea in bed where we kept talking about why and how much we love the world, our lives, and each other.

And here we are in 2009 at last. It's cold, grey, and wet. Miraculously, I don't have a smidge of a hangover. Miraculously, I'm getting a massage this afternoon. Miraculously, Hild and Goldberry are waiting. May your year be as fine as ours is promising to be, full of just the right amount of peace and excitement.

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